Despite Career-High 28 Points from Wendell Carter Jr. Bulls Fall in Detroit

How ‘bout that Wendell Carter Jr. with a career high 28 points?

Which wasn’t nearly enough as the Detroit Pistons in Friday’s 107-88 victory over the Bulls dominated from the start with a 34-21 first quarter lead that stretched to 19 points late in the first half.

But how ‘bout that Wendell Carter Jr. with team highs of seven rebounds and three blocks against the dominating Andre Drummond?

Though the towering Drummond did have 19 points and 20 rebounds as the Pistons pushed the Bulls around to double digit leads at the end of each quarter and 23 points late in the game.

But how about that Wendell Carter Jr. with that third quarter run of 15 points in fewer than five minutes and 17 points in the quarter as the Bulls actually got within five points (though it was back to trailing by double digits two minutes later)?

“Wendell was obviously terrific,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “It’s a big confidence booster for Wendell to play against a guy who is an All-Star in this league in Drummond. And to come out and really control the third quarter and find a way to help us get back in that game says a lot about a guy that’s had some troubles lately and is one year out of college.”

No, there wasn’t much else to talk about for the Bulls Friday other than Carter, who’d had at least five fouls in each of the last five games and was averaging nine points and six rebounds in that stretch. Many speculated the rookie had not so much hit a rookie wall, but had it fall on him. But there seems to be no lessening his resolve despite the setbacks.

“In terms of my confidence, that’s never going to go away,” Carter promised. “Even if I foul out of every single game, I’ll continue to be confident.”

It was the light at the end of Friday’s tunnel of defeat for the Bulls with Zach LaVine equalling a season low with eight points, 17 below his average. Though LaVine had a game high nine assists and set up Carter for a majority of his third quarter points as the Pistons seemed committed to stopping LaVine. LaVine had 33 points in the Bulls narrow home opening loss to the Pistons in October. They appeared to revise their scouting report.

“Missed some shots, bad game,” LaVine said. “Wendell was hot. You’ve got to feed the hot man. He had a career high night; he did a good job, he played good D. We didn’t play good enough to win this game. I didn’t shoot a lot in the first quarter, the first half. I probably needed to be a little more aggressive. I’m tired man, but it don’t matter; all of us are tired, we’re undermanned. It’s nothing anybody else isn’t feeling.”

The Bulls record fell to 5-18 with five straight losses and nine of the last 10.

It seemed to show with a passive start and no one else really able to recover. Jabari Parker was the only other Bull scoring in double figures with 12 points, but he shot six of 16, missing his four three pointers, made one trip to the free throw line and didn’t record one assist. The starters other than Carter were a combined 14 for 43 and the Bulls overall shot three of 21 on threes and gave up 13 offensive rebounds, eight to Drummond. The Bulls had just four second chance points and two on fast breaks.

“I thought right from the beginning we didn’t have the edge we needed defensively as a group,” Hoiberg noted. “I looked up at six-and-a-half minutes and they had 22, 24 points. That’s where it started. You have to come out with force against a team as physical and as big as they are. We talked about the glass. First offensive possession they get an offensive rebound and already had a putback. First half we settled way too much. At halftime, we had eight assists. Third quarter, we had eleven and a lot of that had to do with Zach making simple plays. He was really the guy that got us going (with his passing). He had a tough night finishing at the basket, which he’s been great at that all year.”

It was a curious and cautious start for the Bulls not only trailing by 10 points less than five minutes into the game, but with LaVine attempting just one shot (and making it) before he went out after seven minutes. The guards, particularly Cameron Payne off the bench, continued to drop well under screens, thus giving the Pistons repeated open shots early. The Pistons made six of 12 threes in the first quarter and the Bulls never truly recovered. Payne has been playing lately in place of Antonio Blakeney, who was about to sit out his second straight game if not for late game blowout minutes.

LaVine, meanwhile, had fewer shots in the first half than all the starters but Ryan Arcidiacono. Certainly, the Pistons were mostly concentrating on LaVine. While Robin Lopez again did a good job offensively around the basket for eight points, the Pistons repeatedly used his man in screens to get a switch. Lopez tends to fade back into the lane on screen plays, thus giving the Pistons open shots that led to a late second quarter 55-36 Detroit lead.

“I didn’t shoot a lot in the first quarter or first half,” noted LaVine. “I probably needed to be a little more aggressive.”

However many shots LaVine attempts that might be considered by some as unbecoming, it’s not better than when he’s not an option.

The third quarter then became dazzling for Carter with LaVine constantly finding him and Carter showing off an assortment of drives, dunks and jumpers to rally the Bulls within 62-57 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.

“We played really well after the second quarter,” said LaVine. “Played a good second half, so I think we just have to play better.”

The Pistons broke that third quarter Bulls run with a pair of scores from Blake Griffin, who had a manageable 20 points and 10 rebounds. But the Bulls then went dry with back to back turnovers and six straight misses that included an air ball on a Payne five foot floater. That enabled the Pistons to make it a 17-2 run. The Bulls scored six straight to close the third quarter trailing 79-65. A couple of Lopez rolling scores made it 85-76 early in the fourth quarter before the Pistons created a spark and left the Bulls behind with a 14-2 explosion that sent the Bulls to their bench.

Which made the best times in the game Carter’s time. It’s been a question among many of late given Carter’s fouling predicament and how much of a foul mood it was placing him. Was the rookie depressed? Overwhelmed? Out of his league? Not this kid. He’s playing against bigger opponents virtually ever game, but, wait for it, here it comes, you know it’s coming, wait, wait, wait….they won’t have bigger hearts.

Actually, bigger people do have bigger hearts. But you do have to love this kid.

"Final score I feel like counts the most,” said Carter. “I could go out there and have 50, 60 points. But if we lose, I feel defeated. It’s great to have a lot of points and all that good stuff. But team wins matter more. If I was to score that many points and win, yeah, I’d be bragging about it.

“It’s definitely tough coming from a winning background,” Carter acknowledged. “First of all, we are missing a couple of guys. But I also feel it’s a growing process. We all are relatively young. so we’ve got some growing to do as a team. Only time will tell when we will all click together and get on our run.”